Chapter 3. During a Crisis: Collecting and Disseminating Data About Displaced Students—Data System Assessment
For agencies directly affected by a crisis, locating or restoring existing student data will
likely precede all other data-related activities. As such, the first task will be to inventory
data systems and determine whether any critical data have been lost or otherwise made
inaccessible. Once the availability and security of data systems has been confirmed,
responders should assess whether students have been displaced. If so, local education
agencies should begin to collect and share data to help identify these students. This
exchange of data between agencies is necessary to minimize the interruption of educational
services to displaced students. Related agencies, including local, state, and federal
authorities, should follow their disaster recovery plans to facilitate and otherwise assist in
these critical data activities.
- Retrieve and restore lost data. For organizations directly affected by a crisis,
data and/or records may be lost temporarily or permanently. If a school or LEA
loses both electronic and paper student records, an alternative source of this
information will have to be identified. The LEA's offsite backup should be the first
source; however, if backup records are not immediately accessible, the SEA may
have a data warehouse with some, if not all, of the data.
Communicating guidance on the use of crisis indicators. After a crisis
is declared, education authorities should officially communicate that a displaced
student data collection has begun. For example, in a large-scale crisis, SEAs
inform LEAs, which then advise schools to adjust enrollment collections and
submit data with the agreed-upon displaced student indicator. Relevant disaster
code values (e.g., 01 = Hurricane Rita) and data collection timelines should be
conveyed to specifically identify the event. Data entry staff need to be made
aware of appropriate code set values so they can follow procedures established
during crisis planning and record the information in the student information
system. As always, administrators should remind staff that urgency does not justify
decreases in data quality and that accurate data are especially important during a
crisis. All available methods of communication should be considered if regular
telecommunication, internet, mail, and other services are interrupted during the
- Sharing data. During a crisis, data must be shared quickly across many levels
of the education system. As students move, for example, their educational records
need to accompany them in a timely manner to ensure the delivery of educational
services without delay. Similarly, as agencies request financial assistance to serve
new students, counts of displaced students need to be reported and confirmed
promptly if resources are to reach students and schools that need them.
Individual Student Records: Individual student data must move
quickly between agencies to guarantee the continuation of educational
services to displaced students. Because these records are essential to a student's
educational placement, the ability to exchange this information quickly and
accurately is of the utmost importance. However, urgency is not necessarily
more important than confidentiality. The Family Educational Rights and
Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student
education records, is relevant even during a crisis. Most states and many local
education agencies have similar laws, regulations, and policies.
Aggregate Data: In order to effectively manage educational, staffing, and
financial resources, aggregate counts of displaced students may be requested
by planning and oversight authorities. As with other types of data, aggregate
counts may be needed on a different timeframe during a crisis than at other
times. Staff should be prepared to query and analyze aggregate data in a
variety of ways to support this decisionmaking.
Brokering data exchange. When a large number of students enter or exit a
district or state in a short time, local resources and regular data-sharing processes
may not be able to handle the increased demand. When this occurs, alternative
means of sharing records will be necessary. SEAs may consider creating a
temporary application or database to facilitate sharing student data with the LEAs
and schools tasked with enrolling displaced students. Such a temporary database
could also collect information about nonpublic students and schools. Of course,
confidentiality and data quality issues are more easily controlled in a hosted
data system than in a temporary system. Secure data systems that provide basic
information about displaced students can support proper placement and service
delivery, but several questions must be addressed before embarking on these
alternative means for sharing data:
- Where will the databases be stored?
- How will the data be secured?
- How will confidentiality be ensured?
- Will the agency be permitted to engage in a quick procurement process for
immediate data services?
- Will software vendors support an abbreviated procurement process and changes in
File format is an important aspect of data exchange. New file formats are sometimes
required for new or temporary data collected or shared during a crisis. For example,
if an agency collects enrollment data four times each year and a crisis occurs between
collections, the agency may need current enrollment data and, therefore, add a collection
to the regular cycle. This data collection could use the same format and system as
scheduled collections, or it could use a new format that facilitates more timely response
and accommodates uncertainty in regular reporting methods.
Louisiana created a temporary database after many of its students relocated to Texas
and Mississippi. This choice decreased the data burden for school districts in all three